I have been a photography hobbyist for a while and for some reason, I have resisted investing on a filter system for a long time. I keep saying to myself that I only shoot landscape occasionally, I travel to the beach only once a year so seascape shots are also rare for me and more importantly, I kept saying to myself that a filter system (the good ones) are expensive.
But more and more I noticed that when the opportunity for me to shoot landscapes or seascapes presents itself, I often go home with results that are “just nice” but never really “good or great”. I was never completely happy with my shots. I also had to spend a lot time editing them specially when the shot involves a wide spectrum of natural light conditions in a single frame. Sure, I can always stack several exposures together to balance thing out but being the lazy photographer that I am; I said to myself that there must be an easier and better way to do it.
Since it is summer and I am travelling with my in-laws for our annual trip to the beach, I decided that this might be the best time for me to pull the trigger and get myself a filter system in anticipation to the seascapes I might be able to capture. I had no idea whatsoever about filter system although brands like Lee, Formatt-Hitech, Cokin are familiar to me as I get to read about them or hear them from landscape photographers. As I did my research, I came upon a review made by my cousin-in-law and landscape photographer extraordinaire – Patrick Marson Ong (https://www.patrickmarsonong.com) about a brand named Nisi and its V5 Pro system.
Nisi is a totally unfamiliar name to me but I was really impressed with what I read and the results that I saw from Patrick’s photos. The Nisi system is not cheap, and some friends were recommending cheaper options but I said to myself, if I am to invest in this then I might as well, spend a bit more now on a system that will stay with me for a long time. Because I believe in the saying that it is not quality that is expensive but the lack of quality. If I buy a cheap brand now, I am pretty sure that not long from now, I will be unhappy with it and will want to upgrade which will mean added cost and a loss for me as I have to sell the cheaper system. So I got myself the starter kit, which has everything that I need to get me going along my way.
The Nisi V5 Pro Starter Kit comes in a box that contains the following:
- NiSi Filters V5 PRO Filter Holder System Kit
- NiSi Filters 100mm All in One Case
- NiSi Filters Glass 100x150mm Multi-coated Soft 0.9 (3-stop) Graduated ND Filter
- NiSi Filters Glass 100x100mm Nano Multi-coated IR ND 1.8 (6-stop) ND Filter
- NiSi Filters Glass 100x100mm Nano Multi-coated IR ND 3.0 (10-stop) ND Filter
- NiSi Filters Protective Lens Cap for V5
- NiSi Filter Cleaning Cloth, Air Blower, and Square Cleaning Eraser
So I took with me my Fuji X-Pro 2, Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8, Samyang 12mm f/2.0 lenses, Sirui T-025x travel tripod along with the filter system which I transfered into a Lowepro S&F Filter pouch (which Patrick, being the swell guy that he is, gave to me for free. He even had it Grab Delivered to me just in time for my trip) and my Sony RX100M4 (back up camera). All these fit in the Peak Design 13″ Everyday Messenger Bag. ( although I wish I got the 15″ instead and/or the Everyday Backpack for a roomier fit.)
This year we travelled once more to Zambales, Central Luzon with my in-laws for a 3 days vacation. We tried out a new place called Sambali Beach Farm. It is located in Botolan, Zambales that is a 5-hour trip by car from the place where I live.
Sambali Beach Farm (https://www.facebook.com/SambaliBeachFarm/?rf=470783709739746) is an 8-hectare property which contains a main beach house, a gazebo and an organic farm located right along the shores of West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). It features a spacious beach house fronting the West Philippine Sea (formerly China Sea), set amidst an 8-hectare property with an organic vegetable farm, and nearby a Catholic hermitage and chapel, and a minor seminary. The house is made of native “sawali” material and Philippine hardwood but has the comforts of a city house. (Source: Sambali Beach Farm AirBnB listing). There is also a Gazebo located right beside the main beach house. It contains 8 beds and that was where my family (my wife, kids and I) stayed. The beach is a 2-minute walk from the farm and is really quiet and clean. The water of the beach is warm and is one of the clearer and cleaner water I’ve experienced on a beach in Zambales. The sand, while not white, is really soft and powdery. Gentle waves lapped the shore and makes for a really relaxing experience. The staffs there were attentive and provided us chairs, shade and snacks while we were on the beach. All our meals prepared by them -from the veggies, to the pork and chicken dish – were fresh, organic and from the farm. The place was really nice, the only thing I wish was for a swimming pool to provide an alternative hang out place at night when it is too dark to go to the beach.
Now onto the photos I took with the Nisi V5 Pro Filter system. I tried it both with the Samyang 12mm f/2 and the Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8. We arrived at Sambali Beach Farm around 3pm and after settling down and going to our respective rooms, I wanted to scout the place and look for places of interest where I can shoot. So I immediately installed the filters on the Samyang 12mm and it was a “learn-as-I-go” process. I really had no idea what the rules were or what the proper process was so I just experimented with it. I set my camera to shoot RAW and I started clicking away in manual mode. The system itself is pretty straightforward and easy to use. The CPL can be mounted flush onto the 82mm main adaptor and does not interfere with the installation of the square filters. There is an ingenious design in the filter holder that allows the CPL to be rotated (via the tiny wheels on the adaptor), without removing the other filters. The square filters slide in and out easily but is held securely via the rubber gaskets in the sides of the holder. The only thing one needs to take note of is that the holder itself is bigger than the 100mm filters so when you stack them together, you can’t remove the 1st one (nearest the lens) without removing the others first, so careful consideration should be made as to which filter goes in first when stacking them. Other than this, I felt completely secure that the filters won’t fall off at anytime when installed in the holder. The filter holder and all the adaptors are made up of aluminum. It is quite lightweight but very well made and feels like it can stand the rigors of use and time. The black matte powder coat finish helps keep stray reflections in check.
During that 1st day I was a bit crestfallen because the beach was what I will describe as a great place for swimming but not so great for taking photos with. There were no dramatic features or formations there for me to shoot. It’s just one smooth stretch of sand and sea. So I just satisfied myself with trying out long exposure shots of the beach from late afternoon to sunset. Trying out what works and what doesn’t. These are my 1st day photos. It was really all experimentations and a learning process for me. I am happy to report that post processing these photos was relatively easy because as Patrick had stated in his review, this system adds no perceivable color casts to the images. This makes it a breeze to post process, as all I had to focus on were exposure corrections, leveling crooked horizon on several shots and some minor curve adjustments. After taking these shots, I resigned myself to be spending more time soaking in the beach for the next day and a half since as I’ve said, there were no dramatic formations for me to shoot and I do not want to take the same shots of the same spots all over again.
During breakfast on the next day, my brother-in-law Alex, who seems to be more amphibian than terran as he loves to be in the water, said that while he was on the beach early that morning, he went on a short hike/swim to a spot about 20 minutes away from where we were and saw an inlet, which the local fishermen refers to as the river, and that it might be a nice place to shoot some photos. So around 10am, my wife and I decided to walk there and check it out. When we reached the place, we saw several sand bars and an inlet, which was being fed by the waters from the sea. The water was clean and calm. It seemed like a really idyllic spot for swimming and just soaking in the water. Some hills and trees surrounded the inlet and there was this sandbar right across the shore that sort of formed a mini island complete with some trees and bushes in the middle. The local fishermen used that inlet to put up their fish pen there. Good thing for me was I had all my gear with me, which I carried in a waterproof bag. It was also fortunate that I had the Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 lens installed instead of the Samyang 12mm, as it was weather sealed. I knew that the possibility of having water splash on the camera was great so I wanted to go with a weather sealed setup. I quickly set up my tripod and my camera, installed the filters and waded into waist deep water along the fish pen because it was the only place where I can get the angle that I wanted. My heart was pounding because the sand was really soft and with every step I took, my feet would sink more than ankle deep into the sand. As I set the tripod into the water, I was glad I extended everything to the maximum height because the last segment of the tripod legs sank deeply into the sand. While the current was gentle where I was standing, the tripod being a light weight travel tripod was rocking a bit despite its legs being planted deeply in the sand, I muttered to myself that I need to bring the heavier/sturdier tripod the next time I will be doing something like this.
After spending about 30 minutes there, I was getting sunburned already so my wife and I decided to head back and return later in the afternoon with our family. I was looking forward to the return trip that afternoon because I was hoping for some sunset shots there. So around 3:30pm/4pm we returned to the place with our family. Some of us hiked there while some rented an outrigger boat to take them there. But to my dismay, it became overcast and it was raining lightly. I figured that I probably wouldn’t be able to take any photos due to the condition so I resigned myself to the idea that I’ll just be spending the time swimming with my family. I decided to swim across to the sandbar across the shore, which was about approximately 80 feet (24 meters) away.
This turn out to be one of the best decision I did for the trip because it was only when I reached that sandbar that I saw the location for the shot that would become my fave for the whole trip. The only problem was how was I supposed to transport my gear over there. I must have spend 15 minutes debating with myself until I decided that if I do not risk it and transfer my gear over and take the shot, I might leave the place with deep regrets, so I swam across and gathered all my stuff and was trying to figure out how to swim across with my stuff without them getting trashed. I saw a life vest used by those who went there via the outrigger. I borrowed it and quickly put it on because I needed all the help I can get to make sure my gear survives. So I swam across with one hand carrying the tripod and the other hand holding the waterproof bag containing my camera and filters, all the while, praying that the bag is truly waterproof and that my legs won’t cramp up causing me to drown, LOL! It was with great relief that my gear survived that short swim across. Setting up was pretty tricky as there was no place to safely put down my camera, the water transitioned from super shallow to suddenly waist deep in a matter of few feet and the sand was kind of like quicksand as you really sink deeply in it, add to that the worsening weather condition. But it was the only chance I got so I went for it. I took a total of 3 shots. The 1st one was while the sky was fairly bright, and then the 2nd one was when it was turning dark while the last one was right before the imminent rain. These 3 shots are my favorite shots of the whole trip and made all the effort I took to get them worth it.
This trip marks the 1st time I tried a filter system and I look forward to more “learnings” and discoveries with it. I enjoyed the whole process and I hope for more opportunities to shoot more with them.
Please do leave me a comment or two. I sure would love to hear from you. Thanks and God bless.
Click on each photo for a larger view of them. 🙂
Gear used: Fuji X-Pro 2, Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8, Samyang 12mm f/2, Nisi V5 Pro System, Sony RX100M4, Sirui T-025X tripod